Cass Gilbert Society


Brazer Building, Boston, MA

Burnham Library Architecture Club Catalog 1897 ?

Brazer Building

25-29 State Street, Boston, Massachusetts
Design & Construction:
1896-1899[1896-1897 Irish-1999; 1895 Christen-2001]
Cass Gilbert 

The Brazer Building was Gilbert's first important East Coast project, and the tallest building he had designed. The eleven-story building was one of the earliest steel-framed buildings in Boston. The two-story rusticated limestone base rises above a granite course. The shaft and cap of the building are veneered in terra cotta. The cornice design became a problem because its overhang was offensive to neighbors and violated the building code. After much wrangling and with no agreement in sight, Gilbert changed the design to resemble that of the Bowlby Building (1895). Gilbert had had a projecting cornice problem on the Endicott Building (1889-90), but he learned his lesson on the Brazer Building. Next time around on the Broadway Chambers Building, Gilbert convened a "projecting cornice conference" to head off trouble.[CG to Office, July 20,1899, Box: 18, Fldr.: July 1899-December 1902, MNHS-CGP.]

The original Brazer Building—a three-story granite structure—was known as the "Gem of State Street." It was located at the corner of Devonshire Street, across from the Old State House, on the site of the first Boston meeting house. The Brazer Building Trust was formed to raze the existing building and erect a new building on the site. Gilbert, through his Boston connections, was hired for the job.

During the planning for the Brazer Building, there was concern that the City of Boston was preparing to limit the allowable height of buildings. The unusual site of the Brazer Building, on an irregular lot with streets and alleys on all four sides, makes it highly visible from different perspectives, a feature that significantly complicated its design. Built on a small site, Gilbert did not have the luxury to do much more with his design than maximize the square footage on each floor. As he had done with the Minnesota State Capitol, Gilbert hired an expert for the Brazer Building. The expert was Louis E. Ritter an engineer he "borrowed" from William Le Baron Jenny in Chicago to examine the findings of the contractor's engineer. Gilbert recognized that in 1896, Chicago architects and engineers still led the country in the design of tall buildings.

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